The problem of jobless young people

The most recent labor survey, which was released by the Department of Statistics, contained insightful and alarming information on the state of unemployment in The Bahamas.

Apart from the high unemployment rate of 16.2 percent overall, and the continuing challenges to the Grand Bahamian economy, the data on youth unemployment is quite disturbing.

Youth unemployment, which is pegged at 30.8 percent, is especially a cause for concern if only because many of the young people have not yet had the opportunity to join the labor force; and as such, they are being denied access to gainful employment, which is considered by many social scientists as the traditional route to the process of social integration.

High youth unemployment is not peculiar to The Bahamas.  It is now recognized as a global phenomenon which is adversely impacting developed and developing economies.  

Several studies on the subject have suggested that prolonged periods of unemployment among young people tend to lead to a reduction in self-esteem, diminished levels of well-being and a sense of isolation from peer groups.

Over time, youth unemployment could become problematic to the larger society since young people without the means to provide for their basic needs may not only engage in anti-social behavior, they may also withdraw entirely from the labor force and by so doing further reduce the future developmental potential of the economy.

The marginalization and social exclusion of the youth, according to some studies, are even more pronounced during a recession in that young workers are usually the first to be laid off or downsized when firms begin cost-cutting exercises.  

And those who remain in the labor force are disproportionately represented in the “informal” sector where they have no formal contract of employment, no guarantee of regular work and in some instances, little or no rights under labor laws.

The more educated among the youth are often forced to “trade down” or accept employment far below their qualifications, and for the most part, that group is underemployed and often becomes resentful of the society or the environment in which they find themselves.

Many countries, both developing and developed, have attempted to address the problem in a variety of ways, including by provision of direct incentives to labor intensive sectors and/or establishing schemes to promote self-employment.

Both initiatives, although useful, are not the solution in isolation and ought to be part of a more comprehensive youth employment strategy which has at the centerpiece, sustained macro-economic growth for the entire economy.

To be sure, the self-employment initiative pre-supposes a widespread possession of the entrepreneurial spirit and acumen, which clearly is not present in everyone, nor is it something that can be taught.

It has to be recognized that the future growth and development of any society is dependent on the efficiency with which it employs its factors of production: land, capital, labor and entrepreneurial know-how.  

Of all the factors, it is labor that has to be continuously introduced, engaged, trained and developed at an early stage in order to be most productive.

In other words, we have to regard our youth as an asset that has to be fully integrated into the productive process and good public policy demands that young people be given priority.  

According to the United Nations, instead of seeing them as tomorrow’s leaders, we ought to regard them as today’s partners.

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